Saturday, May 22, 2010

My other summer project

I'm going to learn how to play bass guitar.

It only took a few nights at open mic nights with James to see how much fun everyone has at those sorts of gatherings.  I think I want to be a part of that, but I'm not going to join in on guitar.  And as intriguing as it might be, I'm not going to do it on viola either.  I've always been a fan of bassists, especially John Paul Jones and John Entwistle, and I thought that bass guitar would be an easy way to get involved.  You stand at the back next to the drummer, play "thumpa-thumpa-thumpa" and enjoy being a part of a band. 

The first problem was where to get a bass.  I thought about buying one, new or used.  But that's a big expense for a hobby I'm not certain I'm going to like.  I don't know anyone who has a bass they could loan to me.  My brother had a bass that he bought when he was in high school, but he'd lent it to my cousin in Boston many years ago.  After some consideration and consultation, I contacted my cousin about getting the bass from her.  She never responded, so I checked with her sister.  She said it was fine to take it.  My uncle said it was OK with him as well.

I looked into going to Boston to get the bass guitar but we couldn't work out our schedules.  That's when my uncle offered to ship the bass to me.  He said they had a large box and that it would be easier than having me shlep the bass on the train or in a car.  On Thursday he e-mailed me to say that the bass guitar was on its way and to look for a large box at my office.

On Friday the mail room called to say a large box had arrived for me.  A few hours later they dropped it off at my desk.  I knew it would be big, but I wasn't expecting something that looked like it could have a body in it.

It's hard to tell from the photo, but the box is about five feet long.  The box was full of foam packing peanuts and I knew I'd have a massive mess on my hands if I just dragged the case out of the box.  My co-workers came over to see what all the excitement was and we found a way to get the bass out without spilling too many peanuts.  Two of them held a trash bag over the open box while I tipped it upside down.  Everything spilled out into the bag, leaving me with a bass guitar case wrapped in packing foam.

A few snips with a box cutter and I had the case out. 

Finally, I checked the bass guitar itself.  It was in about the same condition as when I'd last seen it, when I came home from college in December 1993 or 1994.  It wasn't even that out of tune.  Another colleague played a few notes and pronounced it in fine shape.

I shlepped the instrument home on the subway and decided right away that the hard case has to go.  I'll keep it for storage and long-distance travel, but if I'm going to carry this thing around the city, I need a lightweight bag with a shoulder strap.  I also need an amp of some kind so I can hear what I'm playing.  I've gotten some tips on where to get one and what to shop for.  And finally, I need to learn how to play it.  I know what the strings are so I have a basic idea of the notes it can play.  But I have no idea where to begin.  I'm tempted to just try playing along with some of my favorite records, starting with easy three-chord rock and blues.  I don't need to be John Entwistle just yet.  Besides, that would involve a cocaine habit that would ultimately kill me.  Maybe I should find a different role model.

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